Jennie Rook, right, director of music therapy at the Institute for Therapy Through the Arts, brings her guitar to music therapy classes. At left is doctoral student Natasha Noorian, a therapeutic aide at ITA. Photo courtesy of ITA.

The Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA), a division of the Music Institute of Chicago, is a nationally recognized arts therapy program offering services to help children and adults with a wide spectrum of physical, psychological and/or developmental challenges. ITA is one of few arts therapy programs in the United States offering all four arts modalities: music, drama, art and dance/movement.

The program has grown immensely since its founding in 1975, when drama therapist Toddy Richman was approached by local school board members and special education teachers who believed all students should be exposed to the arts regardless of what challenges they face.

Today, ITA has several clinics located throughout the North Shore. The main office at 2008 Dempster St. has private music rooms, art rooms and even its own theater. Serving thousands of individuals throughout the Chicago metropolitan area, the certified therapists work with individuals both on-site and off-site, traveling to schools, hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

“Creative arts therapy is a way to promote healing
and foster growth,” says ITA’s acting director of art therapy, Leslee Goldman. “Individuals often come to us after they have tried more traditional therapies. We offer an alternative.”

Arts therapy, or expressive therapy, uses artistic modalities to address social, emotional, cognitive and/or physical issues. The arts are used to recognize nonverbal symbols and metaphors which may be difficult to express in words.

ITA’s clients include individuals with a wide range of special needs, from a child with a developmental speech delay to an adolescent with behavioral issues to an adult with a physical handicap.

“Every person who comes to us has his or her own set of circumstances and skills set,” says Ms. Goldman. “The therapists must meet them where they are.”

Ms. Goldman explains one difference between an arts class and arts therapy is that “the art therapist is less interested in the final product and more interested in the process. The story, the dance, the piece of art to hang on the wall is the icing on the cake. It is the process of making the cake that is most telling.”

To explain how arts therapy can be used to help a person cope with life’s challenges, Ms. Goldman uses the example of an 8-year-old boy who is given a pile of recyclable items to create something.

“The metaphor is this boy has been handed a pile of junk in his life. This is what he has been dealt. It may not be that beautiful, but he has the capacity to rearrange it. Now, what is he going to do with it? How is he going to reassemble it? If it falls apart, will he give up or will he take what he has, rebuild it, make it stronger and feel unbelievably successful?”

Ms. Goldman says ITA aspires to offer individuals with special needs a safe place to take chances, make mistakes and find healthy and positive ways to express themselves.

ITA is offering two arts-based summer camps this year, including a theater camp for adolescents with high functioning autism and/or a nonverbal learning disability.

To find out more about ITA’s programs or camps
go call Ms. Goldman at 847-448-8334 or visit